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Five ways to beat the ‘winter blues’

About 2 million people in the UK, and 12 million across northern Europe, are thought to have the “winter blues”, a form of depression characterised by low mood, fluctuations in appetite and heavy sleeping, which peaks in January and February each year. So, how should you go about tackling it?

1. Exercise

The simplest way to beat the winter blues is to force yourself to stay active, even when it’s dark and cold. Research has shown that even a 15-minute walk in the middle of the day is enough to increase your dopamine and norepinephrine, which help energise the brain and regulate circadian rhythms.

2. Get into the right mindset

Scandinavian nations, such as Denmark, which endure some of the longest and bleakest winters on the planet, embrace that much-discussed concept of hygge. The ethos is to embrace winter as a time to slow down and enjoy spending time with friends and family. You can also improve your mood by using this time to plan things to look forward to later in the year, such as booking your next holiday.

3. Eat complex carbohydrates

Greasy, refined carbohydrates such as pizza and garlic bread give you short-term pleasure, but will make you feel more sluggish over the winter months. More complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli, spinach, courgettes and lentils take longer to digest, meaning they don’t cause the sudden spikes in blood sugar that can play havoc with your mood.

4. Take fish oil and vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D plays a role in regulating mood, maintaining optimum blood sugar levels and boosting our immune systems, but one of the main natural sources of vitamin D is sunlight. This means that a large proportion of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D during the winter months. One study found that when adults with the winter blues were given 400-800 international units of vitamin D3 a day, their mood improved substantially. Omega-3 supplements may also be beneficial. Iceland is one of the northernmost nations in the world, but has the lowest rates of the winter blues. One reason for this is thought to be their high consumption of fish, such as salmon and cod, which are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3s are thought to exert an antidepressant effect by improving the functioning of cells in the brain and blood.

5. Meditate

Dr Norman Rosenthal, the psychiatrist who first began researching the winter blues, is a firm believer of transcendental meditation as a means of treating the condition. Studies have suggested that by relaxing the body and mind through stimulating the release of the hormone melatonin, meditation can lead to increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with happiness, and decreased activity in brain regions linked to stress.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a more pronounced form of depression in winter, should be dealt with by a qualified professional. Read the NHS website for more information.

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